With the season halfway complete I thought it would be a good time to actually go back and look at some of the top line spending that occurred in Free Agency and see if teams were or were not getting their money’s worth. In this segment we will look at the top five signings on the defensive side of the ball (you can read the offensive overview right here). To qualify a player either had to have his contract terminated or had to have a contract set to expire, meaning Franchise players, and RFAs would count, but extended players like Clay Matthews with years left would not. To do a quick estimate of level of play we will use the rankings from our friends at Pro Football Focus.
Defensive End/34 Outside Linebacker
This was a hit or miss position. Johnson is the best performing free agent at the position and also the most expensive. Elvis Dumervil has been a great bargain for the Ravens and the Broncos likely regret letting him go over a few dollars. But beyond those two its been poor. Anthony Spencer never even saw a practice this year due to injury. Paul Kruger has been underwhelming with added playtime while Connor Barwin has been a disappointment.
Defensive Tackle/34 Defensive End
The big disappointment was Hank Melton who had a negative grade before getting injured for the season. For the Bears this ends up being a decent use of the franchise tag if they were unsure of Melton’s long term prospects. Randy Starks has given the Dolphins great play that grades 5th in the NFL at the position. Mike DeVito has been a very good addition to the Chiefs, something most Jets fans would have told them when they signed him. The other two players have not justified the spending, but are at least performing ok.
This is the first truly poor position on defense in free agency. Only Brad Jones of the Packers grades moderately well. The Dolphins paid significant money for Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler and both have played below average, while Nick Roach is a disaster for the Raiders.
There are a number of corners that qualified for the list since so many players tied for the top 5 in APY. For the most part the great market crash for corners has produced great results for NFL teams. The Eagles and Chargers are the two teams who should have the most regret getting below average results despite top salaries for the year. Still this is better than in years past where mid tier corners would probably have cost $2 million a year more than what was paid here. It will be interesting to see how the salaries at the position shake out next season.
|Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie||Broncos|
I’m not surprised at the poor play of Dashon Goldson and Ed Reed. Goldson was more of a byproduct of the 49ers solid defense than a reason for its big success. In Reed’s case he’s been trending down for some time and whenever the Ravens give up on a player it should always be buyer beware. For the most part the other players have performed around what should be the expectation for their salary levels.
I think the same takeaway holds true with the defense as it did with the offense in regards to top salary usually not equaling the top performer. The one exception was Johnson, though he is still playing for a new contract. That said top spend free agency seems to have produced better results on defense than it did on offense. It’s just a half a season but I think it would be an interesting exercise to go back the prior three seasons and see how things worked out at most positions. I do think some of the sexier positions (skill positions on offense and mainly pass rushers on defense) tend to lead teams to overspend in free agency and those players don’t pan out as well, but that’s just an opinion. Maybe sometime in the offseason we’ll try and not only see how these deals held up over the year but also look at some older ones from years past.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.